Lesson learned: Don’t split up the Ruskies.

You knew the plot already. Mike Knuble‘s return to active play had an ill portent for the Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin (Please don’t call them the “Young Guns”) line. It turned out that Bruce Boudreau decided to demote the “lesser” Alexander to the second line with Morrison and Laich.  (Russian Machine cannot abide.)  After 30 lackluster minutes and a two-goal deficit, our esteemed coach must have noticed that Semin was unhappy and that Ovie’s line could not gain traction. Wisely, Boudreau restored the top line, The Care Bears (adorable, snuggly, have magical powers– get it???). Not 3 minutes later, Alexander Semin produced his first goal of the night. Cooperation among comrades!

Alexander would go on to score another before the 2nd period was out and would maintain a menacing presence in front of the Canes net all night. Semin was joined in goals by Tomas Fleischmann, who wisely took a shot rather than pass to Ovie; and Mike Green, whose overtime goal –  which led the Caps to a 4-3 OT win over the Carolina Hurricanes – redeemed the shorty giveaway he made possible late in the third.

Let’s break it down:

  • The Capitals have sharply broken with their pattern of overwhelming offense in the first period. It could be a sign that the team is entering the mid-season doldrums, but it’s more likely a diabolical rope-a-dope tactic cooked up by ruthless and cynical GM George McPhee.
  • Alexander Semin was one of chief targets of BB’s scorn after Wednesday night’s no-contact scrimmage against the Buffalo Sabres, and he seems to have been sharply aware of that tonight. His two goals and numerous shots show a renewed determination and proof positive that he is able to convert his slick, Siberian stick moves into actual, real-life goals. I can think of no player on the Caps roster that has had as much enmity toward the team than Semin, but hopefully tonight’s performance will remind everyone that a talent such as his belongs in Chinatown. Others aboard the Russian Machine crew may disagree though…
  • In addition to having a cool soap-opera name, Canes goalie Cam Ward turned in a great performance. A couple of his saves in the third were downright Varlamovian. But as much as the Russian Machine appreciates a well-tuned goalkeeper putting up a brickwall defense, we’d much rather prefer those defenses be on OUR side of the ice.
  • Tomas Fleischmann was the first to pick up the slack when his Ovie-ness went on sabbatical earlier this season. Although he’s tallied 11 so far this season, tonight marked only his second goal in a game shared with the Great 8.
  • Mathieu Perrault contributed to the scoreboard for the first time in many games. The Hershey call-up looked great for his first couple games, but he has seemed to fall into a lull since then. Here’s hoping this tiny center can kick it up a notch.
  • If you consider Alexander Ovechkin the heart and soul of the Washington Capitals, you don’t know soul. Mike Green leads the team in ice time and grit alike.   Come spring, his mohawk reminds us how the Caps are doing in the playoffs. His tough hits have many times woken up a hockey team that has a propensity for napping through the game. We knew Greenie was going to be crucial when Brian Pothier scratched, and crucial he was. He got damn near knocked out the in first period, and started dealing damage per second immediately thereafter. He stepped up to play point man on more than a handful of offensives, and was probably the single most physical presence on the ice all night. That presence came at a cost, as Green was on the ice for every single Canes goal this evening. The worst of all, Mike was solely responsible for letting Tim Gleason read him like a Twilight audiobook to take his puck to score the tying goal late in the third period. But like the John Travolta before him, Green shook off his shame and came back stronger, burying the puck in the net for the overtime win. The Caps bench emptied to congratulate its heart and soul for its gamewinner.

Tomorrow night the Caps play some minor-league team from Toronto on some channel that I don’t get at home. So we’ll see you at the Greene Turtle, or as we call it, FIGHT CLUB.

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